Seasholes, Nancy S.

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Seasholes, Nancy S.




Office—1 Field Rd., Lexington, MA 02421. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, archaeologist, historian, scholar, and educator. Boston University, Department of Archaeology, research fellow; Harvard University Extension School, instructor.


Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.


Writer and independent scholar Nancy S. Seasholes is a historian and historical archaeologist. Much of her research and writing focuses on the history of Boston, particularly the process of landmaking that gradually allowed the city to grow through the filling of thousands of acres tidal flats. With Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, Seasholes has "produced a profusely illustrated and encyclopedic narrative of the neighborhood-by-neighborhood process of land making that transformed the seventeenth-century Shawmut Peninsula into the familiar form of the modern Boston metropolis," commented Michael Steinitz in the Geographical Review. The Shawmut area, for example, is now almost fifty percent larger than when settlers arrived there in 1630, noted Robert M. Rakoft in Environmental History. Seasholes marshals both historical and archaeological evidence to explore in depth how Boston has turned many acres of coastal and wet areas into dry, usable, sometimes extremely valuable land. She has "scoured a huge array of original documents, including hundreds of maps, company archives, and public records in order to reconstruct … the history of Boston's landmaking projects over more than three centuries," Rakoft commented. Seasholes describes the technology involved in the landmaking process, as well as the sometimes tense political battles behind particular projects. She explains how much of the work was done, how and with what the wetlands were filled, and the results of a number of these landmaking projects. She also notes the individual histories of manmade areas of Boston such as Bullfinch Triangle, Columbia Point, South Boston, and Back Bay. Rakoft called the book an "invaluable resource for seeing the layers of human activity that surround and underpin the city." Steinitz concluded that Gaining Ground is "an essential reference work for anyone with an interest in the topographic and cartographic history of Boston or in the historic processes and technologies of urban land development."

For modern explorers who want to experience firsthand the geography resulting from Boston's made-land projects, Seasholes offers a practical tour guide in Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land. She offers detailed information and guidance for a dozen self-guided walks through Boston's manmade areas, "where land was created out of water," observed Melissa Stearns in Library Journal. Seasholes discusses in detail the historical significance of the geography covered in each walk, explaining the contours of the original shoreline and discussing how the land was altered to the form it takes today. She also includes practical, tourist-related information such as directions, public facility locations, transportation availability, and more. Humanities and Social Sciences Online critic Thomas E. Conroy noted that Seasholes's book is "aimed at non-scholars interested in Boston's topographical history and tourists interested in a different tour, one on which they learn about what the early land of Boston was (and was not) and how it has changed over time." Stearns named the volume an "excellent guide to Boston."



Boston Globe, December 17, 2006, Michael Kenney, review of Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 2004, T.D. Beal, review of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, p. 1538.

Civil Engineering, September, 2003, Ray Bert, review of Gaining Ground, p. 76.

Environmental History, October, 2004, Robert M. Rakoft, review of Gaining Ground.

Geographical Review, October, 2005, Michael Steinitz, review of Gaining Ground, p. 612.

Journal of American History, December, 2004, Clay McShane, review of Gaining Ground, p. 1054.

Journal of Economic History, March, 2004, Louis P. Cain, review of Gaining Ground, p. 264.

Library Journal, September 1, 2006, Melissa Stearns, review of Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land, p. 166.

New England Quarterly, September, 2005, Lawrence W. Kennedy, review of Gaining Ground, p. 476.

Planning, February, 2004, "How Boston Grew," review of Gaining Ground, p. 57.

Science News, November 1, 2003, review of Gaining Ground, p. 287.

Technology and Culture, October, 2004, Sara Wermiel, review of Gaining Ground, p. 844.


Boston University Web site, (August 2, 2007).

Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (August 2, 2007), Thomas E. Conroy, review of Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land.

MIT Press Web site, (August 2, 2007), biography of Nancy S. Seasholes.